Dear ndugu,

Thank you for empowering us, thank you for your sacred leadership…. I borrow from Black Looks, the Coalition of African Lesbians & Alice Walker and say en echo everywhere –

“David, rest. in us, the meaning of your life is still unfolding….”

Na kwasababu it is not taboo to go back for what you forgot, hii ni hadithi of where we come from……

The Child-confirmation and naming ceremony and festival

(Okwalula abaana) – among de Baganda

The naming and confirmation of children is marked as an important occasion and is therefore followed by ceremonies and rituals. The process literally means “hatching and coming out of the shell” by the child, signifying coming to the new world. The rituals are considered sacred. They are therefore performed in an atmosphere of sanctity. All people who are to participate in the rituals are supposed to abstain from sex and certain foods for no less than 9 days before the ceremony and during the duration of the ceremony. The occasion is marked by much feasting and rejoicing.
The children affected by the ceremony.

All the children of the family who have never been confirmed or officially named are included in the ceremony.

In traditional Kiganda society, the family includes children, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters who may have their own children, and other immediate relatives. The Kiganda concept of family also includes the unborn members who are still in the loins of the living and members who have departed, while the household is the smallest unit of the family. The Euro or western concept of family is largely restricted to the household.

Preparing the Event
Members of the family, as in the manner described above, convene at the home of the children’s grandfather. Parents from the various homes which made up this family bring forward all the children who have not undergone confirmation and naming.

A big feast is prepared. The banquet signifies communion of the family, friends and neighbours in celebrating new members of the clan and the community. The ritual banquet consists of many selected local dishes, including matooke, millet bread, beef or goat meat plus the essential ritual items: unripe, unpeeled green bananas (empogola); mushrooms (obutiko obubaala); and sprats (enkejje). Simsim (sesame) in groundnut sauce and other vegetables are also part of this meal. The drinks consist of banana juice and beer. All items for the feast need the prior approval and ritual blessing of the clan elder or main celebrant.

Steamed unripe, unpeeled bananas (empogola) symbolise communion with twins since this type of dish is considered to be their specialty. Special songs for twins precede the rituals involved in the ceremony.

It is believed that mushrooms connect the departed with the living. It is believed that mushrooms contain properties that can protect the child from misfortune and from all manner of evil including witchcraft, magic, sorcery and taboos. Mushrooms are very much valued because the Baganda believe that they have high nutritional value and can be used to combat malnutrition and disease.
Sprats symbolise the spiritual connection of the Baganda with Lake Victoria (Ennyanja Nnalubale) and Ssese Islands, two major sources of the mythology and beliefs of the Baganda. It is believed that the lake and the islands of Ssese are the home of Buganda divinities.

Lubaale Mukasa is the chief divinity of the lake, while the sprat is the king of all the fish species found in the lake. The sprat is the totem of Mukasa, the chief divinity of the lake who lives in Ssese Islands and who is God’s agent for child-birth (ezzadde), wealth and bounty (obweeza). The Baganda therefore believe that the sprat when used their rituals connects their children with spiritually with Mukasa. The sprats are, on the other hand, considered nourishing and good for preventing and combating children’s diseases, such as measles and malnutrition.

Simsim (sesame) symbolises plenty, prosperity and multiplication; and is regarded as nutritious because it contains oil and vitamins and nutrients which are considered good for proper child growth.

Millet indicates bounty and strength. It is regarded as highly nutritious and resistant to disease attacks. It is believed that it gives vitality, endurance and longevity. It is used in the feast to wish the children a long life and a life of plenty and a life in which they can use stamina and endurance to overcome difficulties. Millet is also associated with the myth of Kintu and Nnambi, the first people on earth and the original ancestors of the Baganda. It is a symbol of the children’s origin and a reminder that their great ancestor, Nnambi, had gone back to heaven to collect millet when she was accompanied by her brother Death (Walumbe) who causes misery to mankind. Millet was the main food of the Baganda before the arrival of matooke (bananas) from Asia.

Beer brings unity as it is shared by all regardless of status. Quite often, part of the beer is offered as libation to appease ancestors and family spirits and exorcise them not to harm the child and to protect it from enemies.

The sweetness in juice is an indication of the sweetness of the world which should be enjoyed by the child in life.

The coffee beans, which are shared and used in the rituals, symbolise brotherhood. They are used as an offering to the ancestors and family spirits in order to create a bond, a brotherhood, between the child and ancestors and family spirits, and seek protection for the child from harm, as well as long life and prosperity for the child. Coffee beans are also used to consolidate brotherly ties and understanding among family members, friends and the community.

Drums and other musical instruments are played at the ceremony as a sign of rejoicing and marking a great event in the history of the clan and the community. Of special importance is the clan’s drum (omubala) which is sounded to mark the theme of the occasion.

Key celebrants 
The chief celebrant at the naming is the clan elder, usually the head of the family or kinship circle. His role is that of traditional chief priest. He is the link between the departed, the living and those not born who are still in the loins of their parents. He interprets the environment where the ceremony is going to take place. He offers libation and sacrifices to appease ancestors not to harm people but instead protect them. He supervises the rituals which are central to the ceremony. He blesses whatever takes place that day. He is assisted in this role by grandparents of the children, particularly the grandmothers. The clan elder and the grandparents are considered to be the custodians of wisdom. For this reason, they are present to guide the young through this process and to ensure that the rituals are performed in accordance with the traditional norms of society.

Another key figure in the rituals is the mujjwa. This person is the son or daughter of a man’s married aunt or sister. The mujjwa belongs to his father’s clan, and not to the clan of his or her maternal uncle. The mujjwa therefore represents the “external” wing of the family, while his uncle’s sons and daughters belong to the “internal” wing of the family. The mujjwa is by custom always considered a child (zoboota) by his/her uncle’s side regardless of his/her age or status. The role of the mujjwa role in respect of child-naming is that of a traditional priest who sweeps away all that is considered impure or unwanted or unbecoming. He thus cleans his uncle’s home of any abominations, curses, magic, witchcraft, sorcery, misfortune, sickness, and all manner of evil prior to the ceremony. He therefore brings purity, good fortune, prosperity and blessing to the home of his/her maternal relatives. It is his/her duty to give his clearance for the rituals to go ahead once he/she has done the cleansing. As a custom, the mujjwa is entitled to a high fee for his/her services. His/her maternal relatives make sure that their mujjwa is satisfied and comfortable. Any grumbling by the mujjwa about poor pay is to be avoided as it is a bad omen; and his maternal relatives make sure they pay him/her handsomely for wiping away the dirt which would otherwise make the ceremony imperfect and unholy.

The ritual banquet 
When the feast is ready, the main celebrant leads the songs of the twins, and asks the children’s paternal grandmothers to prepare the children’s mothers for the on-coming rituals. The mothers adorn themselves in special bark cloths and sit in a line with their children on a big bark cloth in the porch or on veranda. They sit with their legs stretched out. Each of the mothers has with her the child’s dried umbilical cord. It is customary to place a girl’s umbilical cord on her left, while that of the boy is put on her right. Until their acceptance and confirmation by the clan, these children are regarded as outsider and, because of this, their mothers, too, are considered outsiders.

Then, the ritual meal and drinks are served. The children’s paternal grandmothers and aunts serve this meal. The food and drinks are placed in front of the clan elder before they are served. The clan elder blesses the food and drinks, and offers prayers to the family’s spirits and ancestors for the smooth running of the rituals by dedicating the banquet and the benefits therein to the departed, the living, and those who are not yet born but are in the loins of their parents. After this, he allows the meal to be served. He and fathers of the children are served inside the house together with relatives, friends and neighbours. Part of the meal (ekitole ky’emmere) is given to the children’s mothers, grandmothers, children and other relatives who are seated in the porch or on the veranda. This food is served to them while they are still seated on the aforesaid bark cloth.
Part of the food is put aside for a subsequent ritual.

Establishing ownership of the children in the clan
After the ritual meal, the paternal grandmothers ask the children’s mothers to bring forward children of both sexes with the dried umbilical cords which they had kept with care after the birth of the children. Next, the grandmothers smear the umbilical cords with cow butter and clearly mark them so that their ownership as per child would not be disputed.

A dry sprat is also clearly marked for each of the children.

After this, the grandmothers drop the umbilical cords into a basket, which contains sprats, water, milk and beer. If the child’s umbilical cord floats, the clan elder or main celebrant accepts the child as legitimate, and there is much jubilation because this is an indication that the child belongs to the clan; but if the cord sinks, the child to whom it belongs is considered born in adultery and disowned. The mother concerned is in big trouble. She is put to task to name the father of the child.

This ritual has great significant and meaning to the children and their mothers. After this ritual, the child has received official acceptance, confirmation and recognition as indeed a child of the family and clan. The child has now deep roots and an identity. The mother of such a child is given recognition and great honour and respect as a mother and faithful wife within the family and clan. She is highly relieved from the state of having a child whose ownership was in suspense and doubt. In Buganda, a child who has no clan is a great stigma to the mother.

The sprat belonging to each child is carefully preserved and kept during the lifetime of the child until that moment after death when, at the last funeral rites, it will be thrown into the fire and burned to ashes.

The umbilical cords are kept by the grandmothers until they are ritually buried later in the day.
The liquid in the basket that was used in the child-confirmation ritual is kept until it is used for the bathing ritual.

All these actions are supervised by the clan elder with the assistance of the grandparents….

Kwa hivyo, kwasababu ni muhimu kuuliza tena na tena. Who among us carry the sage secrets of loving?

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